U.S. lawmakers talking peace on Mideast mission

WASHINGTON (JTA) — A bipartisan mission comprising eight members of the U.S. House of Representatives is touring the Middle East.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, is leading the mission, which includes a senior Republican on the committee, Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.).

In Egypt over the weekend, the lawmakers met Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul-Gheit and discussed Egypt’s role in the Middle East peace process and the fight to combat terrorism, according to a statement from Wasserman’s office, as well as "America’s long and continued support of Egypt and efforts to improve the quality of life of the Egyptian people."

There have been efforts in Congress in recent years to cut some defense assistance to Egypt and use the aid instead for democracy programs. Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), who chairs the Appropriations Committee, is known to favor such actions.

Egypt receives about $1.8 billion in U.S. assistance annually, with $1.3 billion going to defense spending. Egypt has been the No. 2 beneficiary of U.S. aid behind Israel since 1978, when it signed a peace treaty with the Jewish state.

The delegation is meeting as well with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Tzipi Livni "to discuss the mutual security concerns of the United States and Israel, the ongoing cooperation between our two countries, and the desire of both nations to find a lasting peace in the Middle East," the Wasserman statement said.

Also on the schedule is a meeting with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad featuring regional officials of the U.S. Agency for International Development, which administers non-defense assistance. Congress in recent years has massively increased aid to the Palestinians, to about $500 million a year, a nod toward the transparency Fayyad has established. 

The delegation, which also includes Reps. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), Jim Matheson (D-Utah), Adrian Smith (R-Neb.), Christopher Murphy (D-Conn.), Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), will end its tour in Turkey with a meeting with President Abdullah Gul.

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